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Say YES to a General Strike!

 After TUC motion agrees to ‘consider’ general strike, step up the pressure for real action


By a sizeable majority, TUC delegates have voted for a motion moved by the Prison Officers Association (POA) which says:


“Congress accepts that the trade union movement must continue leading from the front against this uncaring government with a coalition of resistance taking coordinated action where possible with far reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike.”


Before the vote, Workers Power (in issue 366 of our paper) commented that whilst this was “the best motion” to the Congress it “does not commit the TUC to actually doing anything.”


Despite its weaknesses – it talks only of “consideration” and investigating the “practicalities” of a general strike – the sheer fact that it was enthusiastically passed by Congress delegates, when half the General Council had voted against it, shows rank and file union members are fed up with their leaders’ inaction.


No wonder! Three years of a pay freeze in the public sector, vicious cuts in jobs and services including front line job losses in the NHS, pensions fiddled and now the promise of another round of cuts this autumn.


And after only one national demonstration and two days of coordinated strikes in two years of Tory attacks, the TUC has certainly not been “leading from the front.”


So it is no surprise that delegates loudly cheered the words of Bob Crow of the RMT transport union when he said: “The only way if we have spears being thrown at us is to put up shields. If it means a general strike, let’s do it and get on with it.”


Other supporters of the resolution were the CWU post union, general union Unite, and Ucatt, the builders’ union. PCS civil servants union vice-president John McInally added that after the next TUC demonstration on 20 October this year, a one-day general strike should be considered.


But how can these words be turned into action? Rank and file union activists and socialist organisations now need to unite their forces to put maximum pressure on the union leaders to live up to their words – not  just to ‘consider’ but to mobilize for and  CALL a general strike!


There will be no lack of oppostion to this from within the top ranks of the union bureaucracy.  The attitude of outgoing General Secretary Brendan Barber and Congress House was summed up by ITV news.  “TUC sources” had they said warned before the vote that it “would be virtually impossible, since it would involve every union member in every company in the UK finding a dispute with their employer in order to legally take strike action.”


If we leave examination of the practicalities to the officials of the TUC then we know what their conclusions will be. A general strike is unlawful so it cannot be done. Blether from some union leaders that the European Declaration of Human rights could make it legal is also nonsense. A general strike was never legal in Britain and never will be – until workers make the law.


The only safeguard against the law and the unelected ruling class judges lies in numbers. They can’t arrest millions, so all must strike together.


The next steps


The first step is to push hard, now, for the TUC’s ‘consideration’ of a general strike to begin in earnest.


But the people to be consulted should not be lawyers, nor even human rights experts, but the six million members of the unions themselves.


Union leaders should start this investigation by calling mass meetings in every town and city, in every workplace, to explain why we need to strike all together – to defend our pensions against robbery, our wages against the public sector pay freeze, our NHS and our schools and universities against privatisation and break up, our young people against a life of joblessness or jobs with low pay, long hours and no security.


In every workplace in the run up to the demonstration on 20 October, we need to start the debate.


Unite has already called for coordinated action against the pay freeze and is balloting. The NUT has voted for a strike against pay restraint. Linking these actions together could help create a powerful impulse towards joint action and a general strike.

One focus could be if the left unions and the anticuts campaigns launched a mass petition to the TUC, to be signed in the workplaces, on the streets and online, addressed to the TUC general council, saying YES we want a general strike, backing this up with popular print and digital materials putting the case for united action.


This would make it harder for the union tops to ignore the mood for a action, harder for them to claim the members don’t want a strike.


But above all, it would be a way to start organising the forces from below that want action. Everyone who signed the petition could then be drawn into campaigning for it themselves, getting their workmates to sign, then coming together in local meetings to mobilise.


Because we need to organise from the grass roots – in every workplace with a union, including the remote, isolated and backward ones and those not yet organised.

The government has already threatened to use the army to break the strike. We will need to organise regular pickets and flying pickets to stop strikebreakers and resist police and army harassment of strikers.


The students too could play a role in this too.  The NUS plans a demonstration in November. The National Campaign against Fees and Cuts should launch a campaign now to defend to mobilise college and school students to join the TUC demo with the teachers and lecturers unions to defend education, scrap the fees and restore the EMA, linking all of this to a clear call for a general strike.  The aim should be another outburst of mass direct action around the time of the NUS demo.


Other sections of the working class and poor can be drawn in – disabled people campaigning against ATOS, pensioners fighting cuts, unemployed campaigns and youth groups.


The TUC leaders are only talking tough, letting off steam about ‘considering’ a general strike because they know union members are angry, but in reality planning no action at all. They may come back after a long slow process of ‘investigation’ and announce that we can’t do it.


The more left wing of the union leaders may be looking for a repeat of the coordinated strike over pensions – legal because all involved were in officially recognised disputes with their employers, but vulnerable to being divided as each union negotiated and withdrew action separately.


That is why organising from below for a general strike is now the key. This would mean everyone striking together until the government falls. It means busting the antiunion laws and making them totally unworkable.


All those in favour of a general strike should come together now in united mobilising committees to make it happen and to control any action once it starts.


Step up the fight now – for a general strike to bring down the Tories!

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